As I am sitting down to write this blog, I can’t help but wonder how many employers and female employees will understand and appreciate my input. I’m also contemplating how many HR departments realise the devastating impact on female talent retention that the pandemic has had – and will have – in the short and long term.
This subject has increasingly been on my mind for the last few weeks as I’ve spent time listening to stories from mums-to-be.
My hope is that employers will gain some insights into the situation and that my advice will be of value.
And if you are expecting a baby, I hope this will help you to feel heard and seen.
A recent survey by Unite – the UK and Ireland’s largest union – showed that the second biggest concern (40% out of 22 000 participants) reported concerns about pregnancy, maternity, paternity, adoption and other family leave. (The primary concern was that of mental health; something which no doubt has a connection to the second one.)
There are a few layers to how the pandemic crisis is affecting pregnant women in the workplace:
Safety and health are primary concerns.
Questions like: ‘Will I catch COVID – 19?’ ‘How will this pandemic affect my unborn child?’ are the biggest challenges for mums- to- be. Many women were working from home long before lockdown in the UK.
Increased anxiety about birth and being a burden on the NHS.
‘Will I be able to have a birth partner with me?’ ‘What will happen if my partner has symptoms?’ ‘Who will be able to visit my baby after birth?’ ‘Will I have adequate postnatal maternity care?’ ‘Will a healthcare professional come and see me at home?’
The workplace as we knew it no longer exists.
There are no conversations over lunch about baby essentials, names and pregnancy symptoms. No baby showers on the last day at work. The rite of passage from career woman to a new mother ceases to exist.
Baby essentials are like gold dust.
With high street shops closed, many online retailers struggle with demand and, deliveries take much longer. Not being able to tick baby essentials off the list adds more pressure to the situation.
Uncertainty about the workplace.
Many expectant women are increasingly worried about their position in the company: ‘Will they keep me in the loop?’ ‘Will I be included in the meetings?’ ‘Can I be furloughed?’ ‘Will I be put on sick/annual leave?’
These are real-life challenges which currently keep expectant mothers up at night, and if you add all of this to the already long list of ‘normal’ pregnancy and doubts, this could put women in a very vulnerable position.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard many stories and concerns. I am lucky in that I work with organisations which take responsibility and look after their employees. They understand the long-short and long term impact that COVID-19 will have on diversity and female talent retention.
The critical fact is that women generally decide on their return to work date before they go on maternity leave which means that, if the company doesn’t provide support and care before the leave begins, it is tough to ensure that they will return loyalty once their maternity leave is over.
So how can the company help expectant mothers?
You may be expecting me to come up with some off the wall expensive solution. It’s actually really straightforward (I like to keep things simple!) and doesn’t require six months planning and advance. I know how busy HR/Wellbeing departments are right now.
1. Improve 1-2- 1 communication with your pregnant employees.
An email or call once a week would make all the difference.
2. Provide support – both practical and emotional.
This doesn’t have to be complicated: it’s a simple case of sending them resources, blogs and other information which they might find useful.
3. Show that you care.
Organise a virtual baby shower, send the mum-to-be a wellbeing pack.
If you are a mum-to-be and you are having a challenging time, reach out to your manager and let them know how this pandemic crisis is affecting your life and work: unless you let them know they might not understand what your challenges are.
Next week I will be back with my insights on how COVID-19 is impacting women who are already on maternity leave. In the meantime, if you need help with supporting your employees and making sure that your organisation doesn’t experience a talent drain, contact me to schedule a call to discuss how I can help.